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Andrew Breitbart Becomes Headache for ABC

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Network, Blogger Feud After Invitation to Be Part of Coverage

Buffalo News Announces Steps to Address Black Animosity

. . . Watson: I Want to Break Down the Wall

At Rally, Stewart Says the Fired Rick Sanchez Is No Bigot

Muslim Congressman Wants to Talk With Juan Williams

"Mallard Fillmore" Strip Plays Part in Culture Wars

CNN en Español Employees Told to Reapply for New Jobs

Short Takes

Andrew Breitbart's website posted this video last year showing ACORN employees in Baltimore offering advice about how to establish a brothel to conservative activists disguised as a pimp and an underage prostitute.

Network, Blogger Feud After Invitation to Be Part of Coverage

Andrew Breitbart, the blogger who released the edited tape that made Agriculture Department manager Shirley Sherrod seem like a bigot, is causing grief for ABC News, which invited him to be part of its election night coverage.

Even as Color of Change and other media monitoring groups object to legitimizing Breitbart by including him in the coverage, Breitbart has challenged ABC's explanation that he was to be included only as an online participant in its election-night "digital town hall."

"I can state with absolute certainty that the verbal pitch to me to participate was punctuated by the opportunity to appear as part of ABC News’ broadcast television for the night. I was also aware that the majority of my participation — seven long hours — would be online," Breitbart wrote Sunday night on his Big Journalism blog.

Jeffrey W. Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News, told Journal-isms on Monday, "That was an exaggeration and not true. Any confusion about his role is of his own making. He exaggerated when he blogged that he would be on ABC News."

Asked why Breitbart was invited to appear on any ABC platform, Schneider said, "We went through a broad range of people to participate in this digital town hall with opinions and thoughts across the spectrum, and he was one of those people."

Shirley Sherrod

As the Associated Press reported in August, Sherrod was forced to resign "after conservative activist Andrew Breitbart posted a video clip of Sherrod's speech at an NAACP dinner on his website in which she appeared to say that she had once discriminated against a white farmer. The edited clip did not include the portion of the speech in which Sherrod said the episode had taught her the importance of overcoming personal prejudices."

An embarrassed President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized when it was discovered that Breitbart had selectively edited the speech. Sherrod announced that she planned to sue Breitbart. She is one of those protesting his appearance on ABC. Her lawyer, Rose Sanders, compared the invitation to rewarding a Klan member for burning a cross, according to the progressive monitoring group Media Matters.

The Sherrod incident was not the first time Breitbart was found to have shaded the truth. Media Matters listed "Other highlights of Andrew Breitbart's recent career of authoring and promoting falsehood-laden journalism" at the end of another story on Breitbart on Friday.

Breitbart first came to the attention of many for his role in discrediting the community-organizing group ACORN.

The progressive media group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting said, "In September 2009, Breitbart's website posted videos, made by conservative activists Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, supposedly showing ACORN employees counseling the pair — ostensibly pretending to be a prostitute and a pimp — on how to avoid paying taxes and other illegal activities. The videos were later found to be completely misleading. Among other things, it was revealed that O'Keefe never dressed as a pimp in ACORN's offices, and in many cases he pretended to be Giles concerned boyfriend protecting her from abuse."

Clark Hoyt, then the public editor at the New York Times, wrote, "The videos were heavily edited. The sequence of some conversations was changed. Some workers seemed concerned for Giles, one advising her to get legal help. In two cities, Acorn workers called the police." However, Hoyt added, "But the most damning words match the transcripts and the audio, and do not seem out of context."

On Saturday, Andrew Morse, executive producer of ABC News Digital, reacted to the furor over Breitbart's election-night participation with an explanation that noted Breitbart was not being paid and that "he is not, in any way, affiliated with ABC News.

"He has been invited as one of several guests, from a variety of different political persuasions, to engage with a live, studio audience that will be closely following the election results and participating in an online-only discussion and debate to be moderated by David Muir and Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg on and Facebook. We will have other guests, as well as a live studio audience and a large audience on and Facebook, who can question the guests and the audience’s opinions."

At a Sept. 1 forum, an animated community member, Aaron Jackson, asks Buffalo News Editor Margaret Sullivan whether the newspaper explored the criminal backgrounds of suburban victims. (Video)

Buffalo News Announces Steps to Address Black Animosity

The Buffalo News, which so angered members of the city's black community over the summer that some burned copies of the newspaper, announced steps Sunday to attempt to repair the damage.

About 700 people "shared their grievances" with Buffalo News Editor Margaret Sullivan at a Sept. 1 community meeting after the News followed up on the shootings of eight people at a downtown restaurant with a front-page story about the criminal records of the victims. Four died in what the News called "one of the bloodiest shooting attacks in the region in recent decades."

"I feel that we were victimized twice," said Cheryl Stevens, mother-in-law of Danyelle Mackin, one of the four killed in the shooting, the News reported.

In a column Sunday, Sullivan wrote, "I can say, without exaggeration, that I left that meeting both shaken and changed. I still believe The News was right to publish the story because it exposed an important piece of the puzzle about that tragic shooting. But its timing and placement should have been handled more sensitively and more respectfully. (Those decisions were essentially mine.)"

Sullivan announced "just a few of the things that we plan to do:

  • "Form a diversity advisory council to give us feedback on our coverage of minorities. The group will be made up of community members — some prominent people and some 'ordinary citizens.' Editors and reporters will meet with the group quarterly. (If you’d like to be considered for a role on the council, please write to me or to Rod Watson at The News.)" Watson, the urban affairs editor, is a black journalist who writes a weekly column.

  • "Start a speakers’ bureau to get our reporters and editors out to meet people in the community. (If a group would like a speaker, it can request one through Watson.)

  • "Conduct diversity training in the newsroom. Our newsroom is reasonably diverse, with about 12 percent minorities, which reflects the racial makeup of Western New York as a whole. Black journalists work as editorial writers, assigning editors, photographers and beat reporters. Despite that, I’m sure we can learn from some professional training.

  • "Conduct a public opinion poll to gauge perceptions of The News among members of the black community. (This was a particular request of the East Side ministers and activists.)

  • "Begin a regular, every other week feature in the City&Region section that highlights positive or constructive news from the East Side, or simply describes neighborhoods and community activities."

Some greeted Sullivan's statement with skepticism.

"She still did not apologize to the community, nor to the families," George K. Arthur, retired chairman of the Buffalo Common Council, told Journal-isms on Monday. "She just softened her position somewhat." Sullivan had invited Arthur to speak at the Sept. 1 forum specifically to offer a historical perspective on grievances about the News' coverage of the black community.

Arthur also questioned the selection of Watson, who also heads the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, as the point person.

"He's never been a member of the NAACP, never been active in the community," and the black journalists group had "never uttered one word" about the now-infamous Sunday story, Arthur said. "In fact, he was kind of defending the News."

Chris Stevenson, a Buffalo-based syndicated columnist, told Journal-isms via e-mail, "I wrote a couple pieces on how the News is years ago when I was doing a column for the Buffalo Criterion," a black community newspaper. "I said back then that the Buffalo News biggest problem is that they are always 'out to get someone.' It runs across the board here, the News and most of our white politicians are technically democrats, but when it comes to the East side, they act like republicans. As for the article, time will tell (and it won't take long)."

. . . Buffalo News' Watson: I Want to Break Down the Wall

Rod Watson, asked to expand on Buffalo News Editor Margaret Sullivan's comments in her column on the News' black-community outreach and to respond to comments by George K. Arthur, told Journal-isms, in part:

"Though she didn't mention it Sunday, we also plan to have News editors hold periodic meetings out in the community so that we can explain how and why we do what we do and get feedback from those we cover.

Rod Watson"The overall aim is to break down the wall that has long existed between The News and the African-American community. My goal is to have the black community develop the same sense of 'ownership' in The News that other communities have, so that blacks feel like they can impact The News and, by extension, public policy. The reality is that, for the most part, we don't write letters to the editor, we don't write 'my view' columns, and our organizations don't meet with the editorial board. All of those actions help shape the public agenda, mold public perception and help focus the newspaper's coverage and its editorial policies — yet the black community has been MIA. I've been preaching that message for the past 20 years every time I address a community group, but to no avail.

"I certainly understand the historical reasons for this sense of alienation, and the reasons blacks regard the paper as just another alien institution. But the reality is that this estrangement has been bad for the community and bad for the paper. Now, thanks to the recent controversy, we finally have a window of opportunity to get the African-American community engaged with the paper and vice versa, for the betterment of both.

"As for George Arthur's comments: As a journalist, I obviously don't join the NAACP or any other organizations that deal with the issues I write about. When it comes to my involvement in the community, I'll let my columns and recognition from African-American organizations speak for themselves.

"As for the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, we've held forums and workshops to address some of these very issues and turnout has been disappointing, to put it mildly. I can recall one 'accessing the media' workshop in which we literally had more people on the panel than in the audience. A few years ago, we held a forum with news managers from the newspaper, the three TV stations and local conservative talk radio station. There were so many empty seats that I'd be hesitant to do it again because it sent entirely the wrong message: Looking out at the empty seats, the news managers probably thought they were doing a great job.

"Again, I understand the reasons for the sense of alienation, but we have to reach out to change that lack of engagement. This is the opportunity to do that. I understand George's skepticism, and no words from me will change that. So I will say only: Judge us by what we do as this effort unfolds."

Jon Stewart addresses a throng estimated at 215,000 on Saturday on the National Mall. (Video)

At Rally, Stewart Says the Fired Rick Sanchez Is No Bigot

Late-night satirist Jon Stewart, the target of complaints by then-CNN anchor Rick Sanchez that many characterized as anti-Semitic, said at his "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" Saturday that it was "an insult" to call Sanchez a bigot.

"There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned," Stewart said at the end of the rally on the National Mall.

"You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and tea partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate — just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more."

Without stating a reason, CNN announced Oct. 1 that "Rick Sanchez is no longer with the company."

In a satellite radio interview the previous day, Sanchez had asserted a glass ceiling for Latino journalists at CNN, and disparaged Stewart, calling him a "bigot" with a privileged worldview — later changing the term to "uninformed." Asked whether Stewart, as a Jew, might also be considered a member of an oppressed minority group, Sanchez said, "I'm telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish — are an oppressed minority? Yeah.'

Sanchez's firing was followed later in the month by that of Williams from NPR in what critics have called a string of overreactions by media companies.

Sanchez apologized to Stewart, who said Oct. 22 on CNN's "Larry King Live," "Should they have fired him? No. With the crap you guys have put on for the past 10 years ... fire somebody if you think he is doing a bad job as a newsperson. I think it's absolute insanity that people have to be accounted for [comments away from work] as far as their livelihood. Were you pleased with his jobs, or was this just an excuse" to fire him?"

(On his Twitter account Saturday, Sanchez wrote, "Just heard Jon Stewart’s Sanity rallly in DC. Humbled by his defense, and want to thank him for letting me write that into his speech.")

An estimated 215,000 people attended Saturday's rally, organized by Comedy Central hosts Stewart and Stephen Colbert, according to a crowd estimate commissioned by CBS News, Brian Montopoli of CBS reported.

Comedy Central said 2 million people watched the rally, with more than 250,000 attending in person, Eric Deggans reported on his St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times blog.

In the New York Times, David Carr took issue with Stewart's closing message faulting cable news for the increasing polarization in the national discourse.

"Most Americans don't watch or pay attention to cable television," Carr wrote. "In even a good news night, about five million people take a seat on the cable wars, which is less than 2 percent of all Americans. People are scared of what they see in their pay envelopes and neighborhoods, not because of what Keith Olbermann said last night or how Bill O'Reilly came back at him."

The Media Research Center network, a conservative organization dedicated to "documenting and exposing the Times liberal bias," in turn criticized the Times for enjoying the rally too much. The organization said, "The Times also dropped its concern for racial diversity, with no mention of the predominantly white crowd at the Mall on Saturday, a mainstay of coverage of Tea Party gatherings and 'Restoring Honor,' which Kate Zernike described on August 29 as an 'overwhelmingly white and largely middle-aged crowd.' "

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., right, took office in 2007 using a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Muslim Congressman Wants to Talk With Juan Williams

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the nation's first Muslim member of Congress, said Monday that "I personally plan on writing a letter to Juan Williams and inviting him to have a conversation with me, because I don’t think he has bad intention. I personally believe that, you know, we need to really promote the interfaith dialogue."

Ellison was referring to Williams' now-famous Oct. 18 comment on Fox News' "O'Reilly Factor" that Muslims dressed in "Muslim garb" on planes made him nervous. NPR fired him two days later from his news analyst job on that network.

Ellison said on Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now!," "I was a little bit upset by Juan Williams’ comment, not because I think he is a bigot — I don’t think he is — but I was just disappointed because I thought if anyone would know better, certainly, you know, the producer and author of 'Eyes on the Prize' would know better. But I just sort of now think that, you know, it would be great if maybe you or somebody else would interview Juan and say, 'Look, let’s unpack your fear, unpack your worry, so that we can get down to some real humanity here.' "

Williams wrote the companion book to the "Eyes on the Prize" television history of the civil rights movement.

Host Amy Goodman asked Ellison, "Did you think that NPR should have fired him?"

Ellison replied, "You know what? I have decided not to sort of weigh in on their personnel decisions. You know, if they would have kept him, would I have thought they made a mistake? No. That they fired him, did I think they made a mistake? No. It’s their prerogative. But I do think that Juan’s comment offers us an opportunity for a conversation. I would point out to Juan Williams and people who think like him that the people who boarded those planes on 9/11 did everything they could do to not look Muslim. They weren’t wearing Muslim garb, whatever that may happen to be in Juan Williams’ mind."

Meanwhile, Williams apparently rejected a meeting with NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, according to NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher.

Asked by e-mail whether it was known whether Williams responded to a letter Schiller sent him, Christopher replied, "Yes."

Asked whether they will meet, she said, "No."

Christopher was also asked about instances recounted on "Fox News Sunday" in which others working for NPR had offered their opinions elsewhere. Schiller had said Williams had crossed the line permitted a "news analyst" by opining in his "O'Reilly" appearances.

"Some are trying to connect the lines between what happened with Juan Williams and every other reporter or commentator that appears elsewhere," Christopher replied. "We are not going to get into parsing every comment."

She also said no decision had been made about replacing Williams, who was awarded a three-year contract worth nearly $2 million at Fox News. "It's important to remember, too, that Juan Williams did not have a staff position — he was part-time, and had a contract," Christopher said.

"Mallard Fillmore" Strip Plays Part in Culture Wars

'Mallard Fillmore'"The Oct. 9 'Mallard Fillmore' comic strip in the Express-News and scores of U.S. newspapers featured a drawing of a news photographer, camera in hand, telling the protagonist duck:

" 'I shot this authentic grainy video of the legendary "Muslims who repudiate violent Islamic groups," ' and Mallard replied: 'I don't see anything,' meaning, I suppose, that few Muslims have repudiated Muslims who commit violence, e.g., 9-11," Bob Richter, public editor at the San Antonio Express-News, wrote on Oct. 24.

"That's telling it like it is, eh? Clever? Satirical? Some readers didn't see it that way. . . ."

" 'Mallard's' artist, Bruce Tinsley, repeated the same slur Wednesday, showing, to me, that he's an agitator, and drawing this observation from Dawn Kleborn-Curuk, a self-described mulatto, Catholic, wife of a Muslim businessman and mother of three Muslim children, including twins who turned 10 Saturday.

" 'Your paper has insulted my family,' she told me. 'What do I tell my 9-year-old, who reads the comics? 'Mallard Fillmore' is telling him he doesn't exist.'

"Speaking to someone intimately about herself and her family helped me see the light," Richter wrote. "I can defend Tinsley's right to insult President Barack Obama — who chose his occupation — but why insult an entire religion?"

Richter quoted Express-News Features/Niche Products Editor Terry Scott Bertling, whose jurisdiction includes the comics as saying:

"Frankly, I'd rather choose strips that can be consistently funny without insulting anyone's religion. . . . I think most readers look to the comics pages hoping to get a respite from the negativity they sometimes find in the news and just need a chuckle to help them through the day."

On Sunday, Richter told readers he had received more than 150 e-mails, some 60 telephone calls and 53 online comments in reaction.

"About 70 e-mailers and 35 callers defended the Bruce Tinsley cartoon, saying Mallard is amusing, clever, patriotic, beloved, thought-provoking, not politically correct, 'tells it like it is' and acts as a counter-balance to the liberal Doonesbury."

And yet, Richter said, "without much effort, I found four stories published in the Express-News since 9-11 that did what Tinsley said Muslims haven't done. . . . "

"What reader Charles Bigelow called 'the Mallard Kerfuffle' is a microcosm of the political scene in America — groups who have many reasons to be united, but who see even a silly cartoon character as either good or evil — no retreat, no surrender."

CNN en Español Employees Told to Reapply for New Jobs

New logo for CNN en EspañolOn Thursday, management at CNN en Español, under the new leadership of Cynthia Hudson-Fernández, "called employees to an impromptu staff meeting where they were told that all positions in Atlanta were being eliminated," Veronica Villafañe reported Friday for her Media Moves column.

"Staffers were told new positions were being created and that all current employees would have to reapply for the new jobs. Those jobs will be posted starting this Monday. Sources tell me that staffers will be told within the next 2-3 weeks, who will stay and who will be given a [severance] package."

Spokeswomen for CNN en Español did not respond to messages on Monday. As reported Friday, the network has announced it is adding three new anchors — Fernando del Rincón, Mercedes Soler and Camilo Egaña, and is planning "the most comprehensive channel reface in its history."

In an Oct. 20 interview with Laura Martinez of Multichannel News, Hernandez said, "More than a reface this is really an evolution. We continue to be the news network for Latin American and for the U.S. Hispanic but we are going to be adding more programming to the mix, when before we were only una rueda de noticias [the typical news reel]. We would be every half hour or every hour repeating the same stories on a daily basis. But now we are becoming more about programming; more analysis, more context. We do the 'what' is happening very well. But we will be doing more of the 'why' is happening."

Short Takes

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Sharon Prill, Publisher

I believe, Sharon Prill is the FOURTH  (not third) Asian American publisher of a newspaper daily.  Christine Chin was past president and publisher of both the Bellingham Herald and the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Lethargic Blacks in Buffalo

Rod Watson's synopsis of the voluntary disengagement with media, demonstrated by the Black community in Buffalo, appears to me to be a metaphor for the problem we see nationwide.

As a former member of an editorial board for a Dow Jones newspaper, I recall sitting in meetings with a local Jewish group, as well as individuals who would call, write or show up at the door whenever they wished to respond to an article, letter to the editor or even AP wire stories that touched their concerns.

I distinctly recall the group showing up at one meeting with the publisher armed with a fat binder filled with stories they had cut out and collected over the course of an entire year, organized according to their own perspective regarding each piece.

This sort of organized effort wasn't isolated to the region where I worked.

No one had to "reach out" to this group to invite them to express their opinions. If there were a public opportunity for the community to engage with media, these folk were there.

On the flip side, it is embarrassing to read that Black folk in Buffalo have to be cajoled to take advantage of public access to media. Yet, I admit this is the same lethargic attitude I witness across the nation. And not only with regard to media, but the same is true in many parts of the country regarding education. Is it really possible for the public schools to fail our children for 40 years if we were completely engaged? PTA meetings at every school ought to be standing-room only, filled with Black faces showing concern over the plight of innocent children left in the hands of a failed system.

The lackluster turnout to public media forums in Buffalo is a metaphor for Black America's continued outcry for justice and equality on many fronts, while failing to follow through and do the work together that must be done to bring about the change we desire.

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